Session 5: Design & Community Service

Date: February 6, 2015
Location: Steelcase Worklife
Time: 12:00 pm – 5:00pm
Led by: Rachael Johnson, Assoc. AIA, EDAC & Mark Palmer, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Session 5 PDF


session5_01The fifth session of the Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program (CKLDP) was held at Steelcase WorkLife on Friday, February 6. Mark Palmer and Rachael Johnson organized the session focusing on community service within the architecture industry. With a dense agenda including a panel discussion, three presentations, a breakout session on community involvement, and a tour of the Steelcase WorkLife showroom, the scholars were provided different perspectives on ways to engage within your architectural community.

session5_02The session started with a roundtable discussion between panelists representing the District of Columbia Building Industry Association, Architecture for Humanity, and the Washington Architectural Foundation. Each panelist briefly covered their experience with their association, and we delved into a deep Q+A. Gina Volpicelli, LEED AP BD+C, with Architecture in the Schools was the first to speak about her experience working with children in the schools, and how one can engage what the children are learning in class with the profession. “It can be extremely rewarding, helping students to understand what you are talking about, and seeing that light-bulb go off,” Gina said, as she passionately spoke about her experiences with the Washington Architectural Foundation’s program.

As Lam Vuong, AIA, LEED AP, from Tools of the Trade, said, in many instances, by engaging in the community and working with children, one has to be a quick learner and think on their feet. It also teaches better presentation skills, as when presenting to students, you have to learn how to be articulate about the more abstract ideas. “You have to understand your skills and weaknesses, particularly when a 9 year old questions you,” Lam remarked.

Jose Benitez, LEED AP, with DCBIA’s Community Improvements, spoke about Community Improvement Day, which is there to improve and promote DC as a community in which to live and work. A one day event, it pulls in over 800 volunteers, ranging from policemen and firemen, to college students and more, with the majority being non-design professionals.

Lindsay Brugger, Assoc. AIA, SEED, spoke about her involvement with Architecture for Humanity. Lindsay spoke about the local chapters, and the passion and forward thinking that can be seen there. As Architecture for Humanity’s Director for their Resilience by Design program, Lindsay spoke about the process of taking projects from start to the Schematic Design or Design Development level, before the project is handed off to a local build team. “A lot of it comes down to funding, and if the funding is there, and it’s local, you can be as involved as much as you want to be.” Sometimes the design comes first, in which sketches are required in order to help achieve the grants needed to help in the community.

Additionally, scholars from the class had a variety of questions ranging from “Why one would get involved,” to “How does AFH and the DCBIA organize troops,” and “How does fundraising play a role”, the discussion was passionate and informative. One comment that came out of volunteering for organizations like these was the chance to hone and improve skills you might not have access to exercise in the workplace, from Lindsay’s grant writing experience, to learning how to manage a bank of volunteers, as well as learning how to network and fundraise to reach one’s goals. The most important question of the roundtable came from the scholars: “Do you feel more valued doing your volunteer work?” It was a resounding yes, from being able to help boost your career with added skills, to personal fulfillment.

The second portion of the afternoon focused on pro-bono in the Practice, particularly the 1% program. Started in San Francisco by John Peterson, when he initially grew bored with the for-profit branch of his office, so he started the non-profit arm, pledging to donate 1% of each year’s billable hours to non-profits who needed design services. Rayya Newman, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, SEED was here to speak to the program.

session5_03With 46% of Architect Magazine’s Top 50 Firms list participating in the program, pro-bono work has been thought of as an investment in the office and amongst the staff. By providing professional services of their employees in the sum of 1% of each year’s billable hours, firms can “start to show folks the value of design with people who would not necessarily come across a designer.”

A firm is allowed to offer reduced fee/no fee design services to non-profits and 501c3’s. Run as a standard project, complete with a contract between architect and client, many of these pro-bono services, could, in fact, lead to a potential job, as the initial design phases heat up, or a grant has been given, based on the schematics produced. With great conversation amongst the scholars on their current experience with this program, and getting employers on board, Scott remarked, “If we were able to talk about this from a business standpoint – one way to look at this program is this: How do we go about offering Pro-Bono services that end up landing us a job that is paid?”

session5_04After a brief break, and a tour of Steelcase WorkLife’s newly renovated showroom, our own Scott Cryer spoke about his experience with Public Interest Design and the AIA Knowledge Community, which is a website rich in networking opportunities, resource sharing, and discussion forums. One particular forum focuses on Public Interest Design, where many discussions on the programs spoken about today can be found.

The final portion of the day was a Public Participation Workshop, led by AIA’s liaisons from Community by Design, Joel Mills and Erin Simmons. Erin laughs, “We are AIA’s best kept secret.” Joel started with a brief history of the program, and quickly moved into case studies and modern methods of the projects they have been involved in over their 10+ years in their positions.

session5_05Working all over the country, Erin’s main focus is Design Assistance within communities that need help. On a good year, there can be up to seven or eight communities that need their help. Putting together a strategic team, heading to the city, and spending a few, long days with the citizens of the area, they are able to put together a plan that the town can move into action over a number of years. Sometimes, it’s a success, with towns coming back several years later, with massive improvements. Other times, the strategic teams depart, to follow up and realize little progress was made.

Once a baseline was established of what Community by Design does, the scholars were given a strategic problem of their own. As citizens of DC/VA/MD, they were tasked with looking at their city. Some questions that needed answering were, “What are some spaces that need help in the city? Why? What is the rationale for this? Who could we involve? Who needs to be involved?”

session5_06As they quickly learned, these sort of projects cannot be done in a vacuum, and need to involve anyone who is interested. A good example was the DC Metro’s expansion. Aside from the architects, engineers, and city officials, who else needed to be involved in the discussion? Local citizens in the areas of discussion, commuters, WMATA, policemen, neighbors, and many more. Wrapping up the day with a run-through of a Design Assistance Team’s grueling site visit, the scholars began to understand how complex some of these projects really were.